If you think the Apple Pie Trail in and around Collingwood, Ontario, is all about apple-picking with the kiddies, you’re in for a surprise. As G-rated as the name of this culinary multi-stop tour might sound, there are definitely some grownup stops along the way for those of us with a more ‘mature’ palate. Here’s a little taste of a few of them.
Say “Cheese!” in Thornbury
About 15 minutes north of Collingwood and 2 hours north of Toronto lies the small town of Thornbury – population just over 1700. But don’t let its tiny size fool you: located in the heart of the 4-season playground that is Grey County, Thornbury has become a retirement mecca for the skiing, hiking, golfing and ‘cottage lifestyle’ it offers former Torontonians fleeing the chaos of the big city. As a result, its main street packs a lot of shopping punch with decor stores, unique fashion boutiques, bakeries and cafes appealing to both weekend and permanent residents looking for more urbane shopping options – like the Cheese Gallery, for example.
Much more than just a gourmet deli where you can purchase an indulgent piece of cheese from a wide variety of local and imported sources, the Cheese Gallery offers a very civilized option if you”re feeling a little peckish and want to treat yourself to more than just a coffee and donut. Take a seat at the bistro-like counter and order a delicious and beautifully presented charcuterie tasting platter. The knowledgable staff will walk you through each of the cured meats and cheeses, pointing out each one’s origin and tasting notes much like a sommelier will describe a flight of wines.
And if you’d like a gourmet tea to accompany your selections, the staff can recommend one of their delicious blends as well. They even have a box where you can keep a record of which cheeses and which teas you’ve already tried, so you’ll know which to sample the next time. Best of all, if tea isn’t your cup of tea, you can always ‘pear’ your platter with a delicious glass of wine. (now that is what I call civilized – but more on that later…)
The Cheese Gallery’s owner, Casey Thomson, an ex-pat Torontonian herself, understands her clientele completely. She regularly travels to Toronto to bring back specialties that her customers have grown up with, including cheeses from Toronto’s dairy mecca, the Cheese Boutique, and one-of-a-kind Gryfe’s bagels, which have been described by some as Toronto’s best bagel.
Like other stops on the Apple Pie Trail, Casey also looks for locally-sourced items from nearby suppliers and farms, as well as premium products like Rallis olive oils, produced by a Canadian-Greek family intent on preserving the health benefits of ‘raw’ olive oil through their unique ice pressing method. Then there’s Thunder Oak, a hand-crafted artisanal cheese made by the Schep family in Thunder Bay, and a favourite in the cheese counter. These Dutch cheese makers produce their gouda using traditional European methods and milk from their own Holstein cows.
For the gourmand looking for something special or different, shopping the shelves at the Cheese Gallery is like going on a gourmet treasure hunt.
Did someone say wine?
Who would have thought that the same place you can ski in the winter would be ideal for producing wine in the summer? That place is Beaver Valley, only a short drive from Thornbury, where the unique topography and proximity to Georgian Bay produces similar growing conditions to those of the Niagara Region to the south.
Like Niagara, this area has historically been known for its apple and pear orchards and products made from these fruits, including a drink that I had never tasted before: Perry.
Originating from the French word for pear, perry is a sweet and slightly effervescent drink made from fermented pear juice (kind of what cider would be to apples, only with 6% alcohol). I first tasted this at the Cheese Gallery with my charcuterie plate, (remember my incorrect spelling of ‘pear’), and having tasted it once, I felt it warranted a visit to the source – in this case, Georgian Hills Vineyards, another stop on the Apple Pie Trail.
A small, family-run business that has been in operation for 15 years, Georgian Hills is the region’s first winery and is probably best known for its Perry, although it does produce other cool climate whites like its unoaked Chardonnay, a Vidal Blanc and a sweet winter wine made using the ice wine method. Being part of the Apple Pie Trail has also inspired them to produce an Iced Apple Cider using the Elder red apple popular in the area. My favourite has to be the Perry, however, as it seemed to pair equally well with either cheese and charcuterie, or the Belgian chocolates I had for breakfast!
The only thing better than enjoying cheese, apples and wine separately, would be to bring all three together at once, in this case at the Mill Restaurant in Thornbury, where I stopped for lunch.
A ‘casual fine dining’ destination, the Mill overlooks the Beaver River’s mill pond, and has a small outdoor patio that would be an ideal spot for an alfresco meal in the summer. But given that this was November, I cozied up instead to the fireplace in the main dining room and made my choice from their seasonal fall menu.
Although technically not an official stop on the Trail, the Mill’s appetizer of caramelized gorgonzola dip with apples certainly earns it the right to be there from a culinary perspective, at least as far as I’m concerned. Andrew Barber, the executive chef, has reworked the entire menu recently and if my lunch of crepes with chicken, leeks and mushrooms was any indication, he’s done an excellent job in the kitchen.
I made sure however, to stay true to the Apple Pie Trail with my wine selection, choosing the Georgian Hills Seyval Blanc from an eclectic wine list that included an exclusive line of premium wines from the owner’s boutique winery in Argentina.
It was a delicious lunch, and the perfect way to salute a great experience on even this small sampling of the Apple Pie Trail.
With more than 37 stops along the entire route, it would take more than a couple of days to explore the entire Apple Pie Trail, let alone the other attractions that this part of Ontario has to offer. But if you are looking for some inspiration on where to start, these 3 places are certain to satisfy some of your more grownup cravings.
Now, I wonder if there’s a Bacon Trail anywhere….
TIP: If you’d like more information on all 37 stops, tours and events happening on the Apple Pie Trail, check out their website.